Antithetic? No! Marketing and Engineering at SUSE.
This article has been contributed by Matt Fleming, Senior Performance Engineer at SUSE. Matt is a highly experienced and passionate open source developer, who also contributes regularly to our SUSE Best Practices series of documentation. However, recently, and kind of by chance, we discovered his passion for another topic: Marketing! Yes, you’ve got it right: Marketing. Controversial mindsets, you think? Antithetic? Sometimes even contradictory?
Fact is that you don’t often find engineers with an interest for and education in Marketing. Matt passed further training in Marketing. He has a bunch of work experience in improving on-page SEO, writing articles around products & services & thought leadership, promoting content on social channels, doing public relations, and many more marketing-related tasks.
Most of you know that some year ago I moved from a Marketing role to R&D. The conversation with Matt led me – once again – to the “cliche” question: Can marketers and engineers get along? I am convinced they can. Does it happen often? Well, let’s just say that it could happen a lot more often than it does.
Thus I asked Matt to tell us a bit more about *his* experiences having “lived in both worlds”. I am confident his article helps for a better mutual understanding of two crucial areas that, at the end, are not that much different. Hardcore disbelievers might speak up, though.
On paper, no two departments seem more different than engineering and marketing. It’s a difference that’s keenly felt in many companies whenever the two teams need to work together — the engineers feel the marketers are too “fluffy” and lacking in scientific rigour, and the marketers think the engineers live in an ivory tower of business-ignorance separated from the realities of the market.
But underneath the surface, it’s remarkable how similar these two departments really are. In fact, for a software company like SUSE, engineering and marketing are the foundations of the entire business. This point is wonderfully illustrated with a famous quote from Peter Drucker:
“Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation”.
Innovation, or building “things” from ideas, is the realm of engineering. And the marketing department is responsible for, well, marketing – means for the process of anticipating, managing, and satisfying the market demand for these “things”. Since the ultimate goal of any company is to provide solutions for customer problems, businesses don’t survive without interweaving these two organizational functions.
The Coloring In Department
At the highest level, the role of marketing is to deliver value to a customer. First, you need to understand that customer and the market you’re going to meet them in. That’s the role of market research. For engineers, this might sound a bit vague and muddy, but market research is an incredibly analytical task where marketers often use a mixture of qualitative and quantitative methods to understand the behavior and desires of large groups of customers.
Carving up the market into homogeneous clusters, picking a cluster to sell to, and figuring out how you want to be perceived in that market is the field of marketing strategy. Market perceptions are influenced by positioning. It’s almost impossible to position your company without viscerally understanding what makes you special. Which means every marketer at SUSE knows why being the Open Open Source company helps us serve our customers better than anyone else.
After marketing strategy comes campaign execution. And it’s when we come to digital channels that the line between marketing and engineering really begins to blur. Whether you’re extracting search data using an API from of the Search Engine Marketing (SEM) tools or running queries against a database of customer reviews, these are jobs that any engineer would be right at home doing. The tuning of a purchase funnel (where the goal is to reduce customer drop-off from one stage to the next) is an optimization task not too far removed from speeding up an algorithm. It’s difficult to get less fluffy than that.
The Ivory Tower
The role of engineering is to build things to solve customer problems. In contrast to marketing, engineering is often thought of as a purely analytical role, outside the realities of the business world. But as any engineer that’s had to debug complex software issues has discovered, there’s often more to the job than left-brain activities: sometimes you need to get creative.
Writing code and building products to solve customer needs, especially those really important ones that impact bottom lines, usually requires some kind of long-term planning and strategy. This has never been more true than with open source communities. To be a successful contributor to open source you need to integrate seamlessly with project communities and represent, not just your needs, but also your customer’s. Collaborating with upstream projects can require months, sometimes years, of planning and scheduling.
For example, take SUSE’s live patching feature. While it was an interesting technical challenge, it was driven by customer requirements, required years of upstream effort to merge into the Linux kernel, and needed just about the softest skills you’ll ever see to reach agreement between several companies. See? Engineers can show empathy too.
Combining Marketing and Engineering
Clearly, you need both of these departments to be successful. Without marketing you cannot understand what the customer wants, and you can’t deliver a solution without engineering.
At SUSE, our marketing and engineering teams gel to support our customers and partners. From the products we build to the events we run, our entire company is aligned on delivering value.
SUSE marketers understand our customers and define the boundaries within which our engineers can innovate. And then marketing communicates the value of these innovations back to the customers. It’s a process of research, creativity, and communication: first we understand, then we build. Though I still think Peter Drucker can best explain why SUSE is so successful: “marketing and innovation”.